CHICAGO: Malika Moustadraf, one of Morocco’s most outspoken literary activists and feminists, was 37 years old when she died in 2006.
She published a novel and a collection of short stories from which “Blood Feast: The Complete Short Stories of Malika Moustadraf” was born.
Collected and translated into English by Alice Guthrie, an independent translator who specializes in contemporary Arabic writing, Moustadraf’s stories move through the streets of Casablanca, touching every corner of Moroccan life, from social disparity that steals dignity and leaves the suffering helpless, to tales of forced identities, and an unadulterated look at society steeped in patriarchy.
Guthrie, who has been reading and translating Moustadraf’s work since 2016, wrote that Moustadraf was a “gifted maverick writer” who grew “from strength to strength even as her health deteriorated.”
Only ever published in Morocco, Moustadraf’s work remains too powerful to be confined, her stories that are uniquely Moroccan are relatable around the world.
Since 1999, when Moustadraf self-published her first novel, her focus has remained on an “unflinching look at the worst traumas of the female experience in patriarchal society, shot through with wit, wordplay, and razor-sharp political commentary.”
The collection begins with a tale of marriage and the implication that purity is a woman’s responsibility, no matter how rich or poor.
Moustadraf’s stories are brief yet impactful and the collection moves into the poverty of a cigarette seller who is exhausted. The young man curses his parents and sister, who married a Frenchman and promised to get them immigration papers. His life is on repeat every day with hope diminishing.
There is a desperation in her characters and yet a complacency that life is not meant to be easy. Each character is tested by society, such as the transgendered person who is supposed to choose an identity and the woman who is forced to live in limbo when she cannot get a divorce.
Moustadraf shares her own semi-autobiographical story which is the title piece in the collection.
A patient waits at a hospital after learning he has kidney disease and without the appropriate medical care and funds, the story nearly mimics her own. She writes of illness and poverty and touches upon the comfort of ease being a privilege, not a right.
Death is always close in her collection, which is more of a goal than a consequence, as life is lived with little semblance of control.
Gone before her time, Moustadraf’s work will continue to make its way through the literary world as her feminist activism ignites through her written word.
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